By Harry Spindler
Photograph: Wales News Service
Set the scene. It’s 14th October 2016 and the jury has retired to discuss the possibility that Welsh football player Ched Evans is innocent of his original conviction of rape in April 2012.
Regardless of the outcome of that retrial, one side of this debate was going to be enraged by the system. If Evans was found guilty, his supporters would have been furious that they had lost his case and five years of his career. On the other hand, a not-guilty verdict would lead to outrage from those who felt the whole case was unjust, dire and crass.
The politics of this case are not what concern this piece and, when it comes to an issue as sensitive as rape, you will never get everyone to understand or agree. Instead, what I want to focus on is the question: Where does Ched Evans go from here? We have to accept now that this man is out of prison and, by the letter of the law, a free, innocent man.
Before prison, Ched Evans was a budding footballer and, in his final season, before the initial conviction, bagged 35 goals in 42 appearances. That is an incredible goal tally for a 22-year-old and, at that time, Evans was being linked to moves to much larger clubs, as well as to a successful international career with Wales. I guess it is true, then, when they say never take anything for granted.
What happened that night in Rhyl, regardless of if it was rape or not, was vile and degrading. Evans, as a footballer in the public eye, should have never got himself into that sort of situation. He has come out of this incredibly unscathed in comparison to the abuse the young woman he was accused of assaulting has received during the retrial and, most likely, in the aftermath that will continue to follow. She will have this hanging over her for most of her life, with some calling her a liar and others supporting and believing in her. For me, sitting on the fence may be regarded as cowardly but there are aspects of both sides of this case which are morally wrong and should never have happened.
Evans clearly wants to rebuild his career in football, most likely not to the heights it was expected to go previously, but he certainly has the desire to get back onto a football pitch. At the start of this season, Chesterfield gave Evans a one-year deal to spend the season with the league one club. The form he has shown so far with four goals in seven games reminds us of why he was so well reputed back in 2012.
From a sporting point of view, we have to accept that he is now an innocent man, so what stops Ched Evans from being able to play again? Well firstly, scepticism. You don’t have to look far after the case to see sceptics about the outcome. Those who feel the case was marred by controversy argue that some of the tactics from the Evans group were, while legal, immoral and abusive of the legal system. Tweets and articles on the case comment, “Ched Evans rape case sets us back 30 years”, and, “This is why rape victims don’t report #RapeCulture #FootballCulture”.
While some of this is true, and some of the tactics used in the case were wrong, the entire Evans retrial shows how messed up our judicial system can be. People will still look at Evans for the rest of his career and ask “Well, did he or didn’t he?” It is the same case with the female accuser, who will probably be tarnished with a similar brush.
Some argue that, because of the way he has acted, rape or not, Evans should not be allowed to return to such a public domain like the English football leagues. We have come to accept some sort of idea that footballers are de facto role models and, in the real world, that is ludicrous. Many footballers have notoriously been womanising, arrogant fools and we can’t go a few months without one of them being accused of cheating on their partners, caught getting too drunk on a night out or caught taking some sort of drug. Yet, we still argue that they are role models? Hilariously wrong, if I have a son or daughter one day and they say to me that one of their heroes is a footballer who I know is one of those aforementioned, I’ll make sure they understand why he is not a hero.
Richard Garside, the Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, stated after the Evans case, “My concern is that those people who feel strongly that he should not be a footballer are confusing the question of practice with the appropriate provisions of a criminal sanction. The court does not impose unemployment as a punishment.”
He continued, “My view on life after the crime remains the same regardless of whether the original verdict is held or he is acquitted. His return to work should be on the basis of footballing judgement.”
The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies works on educating most of the populace on how our judicial system works and while this is only the opinion of one man, in this situation, it is a very strong and understandable view.
So, if it is down to a pure footballing judgement then let’s look at Ched Evans’ footballing ability. As I stated before, in his season before his initial conviction he managed to score an impressive 35 goals in all competitions, a vast improvement on the nine in the previous season. It was believed that, after netting that many goals at such a young age, he was destined for great things and while he only managed one goal in his 13 international appearances for Wales, it was expected he’d lead the Welsh line for a long time. That long time most likely being the five years he has spent out of the game.
It would be unfortunate if that was all we could bring up now but, as he has played seven games for Chesterfield, we can also see he hasn’t really lost his scoring touch. Four goals for his new club have already sparked talk on a call-up for Wales, as well as moves to bigger clubs. Evans was part of the crop of young Welsh stars brought in by Toshack and Flynn. That crop included players like Bale, Ramsey, Allen and Gunter. All current Wales internationals.
Clearly, on a footballing scale, if Evans wasn’t any good anymore then teams wouldn’t be speaking about him. He wouldn’t be linked with moves to the Championship and the FAW wouldn’t be discussing speaking to his representatives about future call-ups. He knows he has had it tough, but Evans himself believes he still has the talent that once made him a promising young striker.
In many eyes, Ched Evans is far more blurred and difficult to understand than someone who was 100% guilty and has served all their time. Surely, however, the man has now won his case and should be allowed to get on with what he did before. Football.
Harry Spindler is currently studying History and International Politics and has aspirations to be a journalist. He is a huge fan of football, rugby, ice hockey and basketball and is a keen supporter of the left wing. You can find more of his work online at spindlersdugout. blogspot.co.uk & allonredharry.blogspot. co.uk.